Highlights from Thursday’s media availability after Georgia Tech’s seventh practice of the preseason.
1. Two quotes from safeties coach Andy McCollum about two players in his position group:
“Give me a bunch of Jalen Johnsons. In this day and time, it’s like we all talk about – give me the guys that love playing football, not the guys that love recruiting. And Jalen Johnson’s one of those. He loves playing football. He’s been here and it’s fun to sit there and watch the guys grow up. Some may play early, some may not play as early. Jalen’s played a lot of special teams and made a lot of big plays and probably should have played more a year ago, but every rep he gets, he’s very physical and he loves playing. There’s going to be places for him to play and he’s going to contribute on this team on defense and on special teams. He’s a guy that, every day he walks in, he’s ready to practice and he’s ready to play and loves playing football.”
“A.J. (Gray) had a good year last year. He can improve on it. A.J. did a great job (this summer). Coach (John) Sisk and his staff did a tremendous job with him this summer. A.J.’s more fluid, changing direction all like that. You’ve got to remember, really a year ago was the first year that A.J. played a full year on defense as a safety at that position. He had a couple mistakes like everybody would. He learned from them and there’s nobody that wants to be better than him. Like I said, he fits Jalen’s character. Give me a bunch of him, too.”
2. Defensive tackle Desmond Branch, slated to start alongside Kyle Cerge-Henderson, has gained about 10 pounds from last season, to 280, in his move to the interior. Branch, a junior-college transfer, began the season at defensive end.
“I’m trying to get a little heavier, but I still want to remain quick,” he said.
Tuesday, Cerge-Henderson described Branch as a “finesse player.” Branch’s response:
“I would say I lean towards more finesse,” Branch said. “Me being a finesse player, I learned that being on the inside, you kind of have to bow up a little bit and get a little bit of strength, so I’ve been working with Kyle, trying to work on my strength, doing more power moves, but I would definitely consider myself a finesse player.”
Branch, whose brother Alan plays defensive tackle for the New England Patriots, said he tries to learn as much as he can from his tutelage. Alan has been in the NFL for 10 seasons.
His position “is a lot different, but when he watches the game, he’ll tell me a couple things like, ‘Hey, you know when you do this move, it’ll really help if you just add on a little something here and just tweak a little something to change the whole outcome,’” Desmond Branch said. “I think this is his 11th year in the league, so his experience, the way he sees football, I just try to absorb everything he has.”
3. Cornerbacks coach Joe Speed has been encouraged by what he has seen from freshman corners Jaytlin Askew, Tre Swilling and Dameon Williams. (Gentry Bonds played cornerback in high school, but has moved to safety.) Speed was asked if some of them will play this season.
“Absolutely,” Speed said. “Special teams and then we’ll see how the corner rotation happens. Absolutely they will be contributors on our team.”
4. Linebacker Brant Mitchell said he has been trying to work with the freshman in his position group, Jaquan Henderson, Bruce Jordan-Swilling and T.D. Roof.
“When I came in, I was clueless,” he said. “I think that really helps them to develop, especially when you have somebody that’s on the team with you, not coming from a coach, but coming from somebody who’s been in your situation. I’ve really tried to take the time to watch a little film with them and show them stuff, just the little things, that we can get fixes and help them be a little bit better every single day.”
5. Jalen Johnson, the backup safety lauded by McCollum, is the backup nickel back behind Lawrence Austin. He also is a backup at safety behind A.J. Gray and Corey Griffin.
“I’ve been here three years and mainly been on special teams, but now getting into the defense and learning the defense, I pretty much know everything right now. It feels pretty good.”
Johnson had some praise for Austin, who at 5-foot-9 and 187 pounds cuts a bit of a different figure than Johnson at 6-3, 216.
“Lawrence, it’s crazy how hard he works and how tough he is,” Johnson said. “He’s an awesome guy. He’s helped me a lot, like, learning nickel and stuff. He’s a great competitor. His size, it doesn’t really matter.”